Breaking up sucks. It’s painful, complicated, and makes you listen to sad MP3s. And technology—Facebook, texting, email—only makes things more complicated. So how do you navigate 21st-century heartbreak? We talked to some experts to find out.
How should you respond to a “We need to talk” text?
“We need to talk” are four terrifying words, second only maybe to “I’m murdering you now”. So what do you do when you get a text with this most ominous of messages? As Annie Fox, author of The Teen Survival Guide to Dating and Relating puts it, “So, now what? Text back? No. By this point, you’re clearly about to get dumped—so steer things out of the digital domain and at least do it right. Middle schoolers break up with each other via text—not you. “The grown-up response to “We need to talk,” explains John Bridges, author of How to Be a Gentleman: A Timely Guide to Timeless Manners, “is either “Call me” or “I’ll call you” followed by a full-fledged voice-to-voice phone call.”
So it’s going to hurt. Yeah. Unavoidable. But man or woman up, and face the horrible, heart-stomping ordeal head-on.
When do you change your Facebook relationship status?
Instead of wondering when to reveal your single-dom to the world, we recommend you dodge the question entirely by going stealth. When you’re ready to pull the trigger set your relationship status privacy setting to “Only Me”. Then, break it off, whether you want to flag yourself as single, divorced, or nothing at all. Wait a day, pop the privacy settings back where they were, and presto—your tale of woe dodges the News Feed.
What do you do with saved digital photos of you two together?
So you spent a few months together. Maybe a few years. Either way, you’ve now accumulated a decent number of joyful JPEGs: Arms linked, joking, drinking, laughing, kissing—basically, the stuff of nightmares. So what should you do with all these vestiges of You In Love?
Since many of these photos may include memories that you may want to recall long after the pangs of breaking up melt away—vacations to cool places you may never go back to again—we don’t recommend you nuke them. Put. Them. Away. Copy them to an external hard drive, and put that hard drive in your sock drawer. Put that sock drawer in a larger sock drawer. Check back later. When? Like “time capsule” later.
What about tagged pictures online?
Your hard drive isn’t the only repository of painful visual memories. People love tagging couples on Facebook. (Related: Ugh) People love leaving comments like “You two are the cutest!” or “My fave couple!” These may not be the exact scenes you want to expose yourself to right now. Understandable. But unlike deleting all the pictures on your computer untagging pictures on Facebook is a public affair—just like everything else on Facebook. You could just change your privacy settings on individual albums to hide them from everyone but you. But the fact of the matter is that you’d be deleting your own public persona as much as you’re deleting your ex, so you should proceed with a sense of prudence.
But if things were ugly, you’ll probably want to go the same route as you did with the pictures on your computer—get ‘em out of sight: “If it was a particularly acrimonious breakup, says Jezebel Editor in Chief Jessica Coen, “de-tag yourself in other people’s pics. If they’re yours, de-tag them and take most of them down.”
But if your relationship didn’t go out with a plate-shattering shitstorm, you might be able to go with what Jezebel’s Anna North describes as the post-breakup “Facebook diet”. In this case, just live and let live—and stay out of the blue-and-white hell. Those pictures? “Leave them alone,” she says. “This also prevents wallowing and encourages one to go outside.”
There’s also some strategy to this, however, if you’re feeling like a social media Machiavelli. Even if it doesn’t throw a wrench in your guts, what effect might the tagged pics of two former lovebird have on your next dalliance? “Untagging prevents other prospects from seeing dozens and dozens of pictures of you happy with some other person who was boning you at the time—and you can’t add ‘BUT THEY WERE SUPER DUMB AND NEVER MADE ME LAUGH YOU’RE BETTER I SWEAR’ to tags,” says Jezebel’s Morning Gloria. “Which is a shame, because you really should be able to add that to tags.”
Should I delete my ex from my friend lists?
Unless the two of you are some sort of superhumanly-mature friendship cyborgs, you won’t be able to just pretend everything is normal and pick up as just friends the next day. You’re probably going to be hurting. A lot. And seeing your ex’s name pop up on ye olde buddy list might make it hurt even more. If you’re trying to remain civil, we recommend taking it easy and starting by hiding exes but not blocking or deleting them: Facebook allows you to hide people from your news feed, IM programs let you hide people from your buddy lists, and twitter lets you unfollow people or put them on lists you don’t have to ever check. So there’s a lot you can do without banishing/blocking.
What do you do with old emails/IM logs/texts? Keep them? Delete them? Back them up for later retrieval? If you do anything with them, how long do you wait? Why?
Texts and emails from exes might seem the same as photos on your hard drive and Facebook, but they aren’t. Because while photos might be fond memories despite your ex being in the frame, conversations between two people are pretty much going to be mundane or intimate. Neither case justifies them being kept. Nuke them.
“I’ll wait about a month or so, and if it’s clear that we’re never going to reconcile (hint: we’re not!), I delete,” says Gloria. “I usually do an inbox search of my ex’s first name and even delete emails I exchanged with my friends wherein I discuss the ex. There’s no need to keep that kind of stuff around; it keeps you from moving on.”
How do you handle drunk dials/texts from to/from the ex?
Drunk dialing (and texting!) is at once the most thrilling and saddest of all late night activities. We’ve all done it. Maybe you’re doing it right now (stop!). Spoiler alert: you aren’t going to win back your ex by saying “heyyEY wHWts are yoU diugn right neiiow?????” at 3 in the morning over your phone.
That’s obvious in theory but harder in practice. Instead of deleting their number, trick your your highly shitfaced brain (or theirs) with a little phone strategy: “Some people save their ex’s numbers as “DO NOT ANSWER” or “NO” in their phones,” says Gloria, “but nothing would convince Drunk Me to pick up a phone call like seeing a call from DO NOT ANSWER. To combat my belligerence, I leave my exes in my phone but save their number as the name of some guy I went to high school with who is kind of gross and who I’d never call or have a reason to talk to.” Or name them “Gonorrhea Pants Jones”.
What do you do with the peripheral friends/family-of-the-ex you’ve picked up along the way?
In every break up, you divvy up the friends and the originating relationship usually equates to dibbs. In real life, you’d never call your exes’ friends to see what they’re doing. But Facebook isn’t really real life. Nuke those acquaintances you found through your old love if you never liked them and only accepted their friend request to be polite. Or, keep ’em if you’re indifferent or actually want to stay in touch. It really doesn’t matter. Just remember the more of your exes’ friends you’re pals with online, the more often you’ll see their faces in your feeds.
How do you digitally rebound?
Allllllright! Now that you’re done sobbing and looking at vignettes of past love in iPhoto, it’s time to go out there and get your mind off things. With art? With a good comedy? No, silly! With some facile, inane sex. And if the internet is nothing else, it’s a repository of facile, inane sex.
If you’re a woman, try Craigslist! Virtually all of the Casual Encounters listings are men, posting with the extremely remote hope that someone exactly like you will read their sad little ping. Caveat: probably will get strangled and dissolved in a bath tub.
If you’re a guy, don’t bother. So where to turn? Porn’s everyone online. And when you’re tired of that, try a more traditional approach: hitting on easy people you already know: “If you’re looking to rebound in a more sexual way,” Debby suggests, “texting former friends with benefits – or new potential friends with benefits – is an option.”Keep things discrete and neat. Well, as much as you can when it comes to sleazy online booty message rebounds.
How long do you wait until reestablishing digital contact?
“Re-establish contact only when you know that you’ve moved on,” Debby says.
It’s very, very easy to erase virtually every vestige of your train wreck romance, as seen above. An ex can be blocked, deleted, unfriended, detagged, hidden—completely purged. The destruction is the piece of cake. But being on okay terms again? That’s immensely complicated, because of all the aforementioned ways in which you can blot someone’s existence out of your life. The digital flame in your heart may flicker with pixels and be coated with a Hipstamatic filter, but once it’s snuffed, it’s snuffed hard. Every means you have at your disposal to sever digital ties with your ex, your ex has right back at you. So when you’re ready to start talking again, “you may not have any say in the matter,” laments Debby, “especially if you’re the one who gets blocked in some way.” So ultimately, there may be nothing you can do.
But know this—the less psycho everyone is at the outset of the breakup, the easier it is to say hello (platonically!) later. And if there’s no contact info left, you need to remember what it was that made it that way, and ask yourself if saying hello now is a good idea. With that in mind, you can always send them a note with the subject line “white flag” on Facebook, without initializing a friend request.
ABOUT OUR EXPERTS
Jessica Coen is Editor-in-Chief of Jezebel and fierce wisdom-dispenser
John Bridges, dapperest man alive, is author of the How to Be A Gentleman series
Annie Fox is an educator and author of The Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating
Anna North is a writer for Jezebel and author of the novel America Pacifica
“Morning Gloria” is Jezebel’s Sunday contributor and possible secret agent.